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Eagle County Is The First Colorado Locality To Set Its Own Coronavirus Response Rules

This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on April 23, 2020

Congratulating Eagle County on Thursday for its response to COVID-19, the state’s top public health official, Jill Ryan, granted the county’s request for exemptions from state orders on stringent stay-at-home requirements and gatherings of less than 10.

The exemptions will also allow for the opening of certain parks and businesses including retail and service, provided social distancing guidelines are followed.

Ryan, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a former Eagle County commissioner who lives in Edwards, attended a meeting of the Eagle County commissioners in-person to grant the request.

“Thank you, and very good job Eagle County,” Ryan said in granting the request.

Gov. Jared Polis also attended the meeting, but not in person. Polis was in the room via a large screen.

“The way that Vail Health, the county health department, the commissioners, really everybody stepped up to get the valley, through this crisis has been an inspiration to the rest of the state,” Polis said.

Heath Harmon, Eagle County public health director, made the official request to Ryan, and in doing so, also made a request to the community.

‘Commitments of containment’

Harmon asked residents to take a pledge of five commitments, which the county is calling its commitments of containment.

  1. Maintain 6 feet of distance from people outside of your household at all times. “Even as we start to lift these restrictions … we are not lifting that minimum 6 feet of distance,” Harmon said.
  2. Wash hands frequently. “And remember, when you’re washing them, wash them for 20 seconds,” Harmon said.
  3. Cover your face when you’re out in public. “Especially as you’re going into … areas where you might have more frequent contact with individuals,” Harmon said.
  4. Stay home when you’re sick. “This is still an area of challenge that we hear from so many other communities,” Harmon said.
  5. If you’re sick, get tested immediately. “It’s with that testing result that we can actually make sure that the isolation you need for your recovery is also helping to prevent that exposure to others,” Harmon said.

No one currently hospitalized

Vail Health CEO Will Cook said currently the hospital does not have a single COVID-19 patient.

“We haven’t had a patient on a ventilator since March 27,” Cook said.

Cook said Vail Health’s system also includes Colorado Mountain Medical and works closely with the Medicare and Medicaid providers Mountain Family Health Center.

Cook said along with the county’s mobile testing unit, which visits low-income areas and tests those with symptoms, Vail Health has “line of sight on all the various places that someone could call in with a complaint of symptoms, so that we can test rapidly.”

Recreation should be near home

County Commissioner Jeanie McQueeney said she wanted to make it clear that Eagle County is not ready to welcome visitors.

Safer at home “is recreating near your home, and it is not going to the mountains for the weekend,” McQueeney said. “We’re able to take this step for our residents. … We need to do this community by community. It’s not a free for all.”

On Tuesday, Polis clarified that recreating near one’s home means within 10 miles, and hikers and bikers should be wearing masks on the trail for those moments when they encounter one another in close quarters.

On Wednesday, Polis said Eagle County was an inspiration to both Colorado and the United States as a whole in addressing the crisis.

“(Eagle County) was one of the hardest-hit counties, not just in the state, but in the entire country, relative to the population,” Polis said. “So it’s only appropriate that having been hit first, Eagle County is able to enter a more sustainable phase a little bit earlier.”

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